Friday, 25 January 2013

Unemployability II

There was a CV doing the rounds at the university today for someone who had been continuously in higher education since the late 20th century. They had done a broad range of qualifications in medicine, political science, teaching, and a couple of sciences. They had done pretty well in all of these subjects, but my impression on seeing this CV was that this was someone who didn't know what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Many in academia think this of engineering undergraduates. They are doing a degree in chemical / environmental engineering because they don't know what else to do. Highly numerate degrees are all much of a muchness, they can get a job in the city, or whatever with a good degree in Chemical Engineering.

In this model the degree is just a filtration mechanism, it hardly matters what we teach and assess them on, as long as it is intellectually challenging, and requires a high degree of numeracy, but strangely, when I ask undergraduates, the overwhelming majority tell me they came to be made into engineers. This is however more true of first and second years than it is of final year students, but less so for those who have done a year in industry.

A CV like a library ticket is far less impressive than the tightly focussed experience and qualifications of the person who went to university specifically to train for the job we are offering. Who wants to take on someone who is having to settle for their fallback career? Not me.

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